Mulholland Drive

Director: David Lynch.
Screenplay: David Lynch.
Starring: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux, Ann Miller, Robert Forster, Brent Briscoe, Dan Hedaya, Patrick Fischler, Michael Cooke, Michael J. Anderson, Melissa George, Jeanne Bates, Angelo Badalamenti, Mark Pellegrino, Lori Heuring, Billy Ray Cyrus, Missy Crider, Chad Everett, Monty Montgomery, Scott Coffey, Bonnie Aarons, Rebekah Del Rio.

“It’ll be just like in the movies. Pretending to be somebody else.”

A recent poll by BBC Culture surveyed the opinion of film critics, academics, and curators from 36 countries across every continent which consisted of 177 of the worlds foremost movie experts. They were tasked to compile an international list of the top 100 films released since the year 2000 and come up with the best film of this century so far. It’s no easy task but when all was said and done, the film that topped the list was David Lynch’s hallucinatory and meditative film-noir, Mulholland Drive. It came as a surprise to some but for those familiar with the film itself, it was a fitting accolade. 

Plot: After a car crash leaves her with amnesia, Rita (Laura Harring) has no idea who she is or where she’s come from and wanders around the streets of Los Angeles in a daze. She eventually finds refuge in an apartment where she is found by ambitious young actress Betty (Naomi Watts). Betty and Rita then work together and investigate the mystery of Rita’s condition and seek the answers to her true identity.

It’s pretty much common knowledge now that Mulholland Drive was a failed proposal by Lynch to embark on a new television series. Originally conceived while filming Twin Peaks, it was to be a spin-off featuring the character of Audrey Horne (which was played by Sherilyn Fenn). Lynch went on to direct a 90min pilot for ABC but, in the end, the network executives rejected it. As a result, Lynch rejigged and regurgitated the material into a feature film and produced, arguably, his finest work to date.

So complex is Mulholland Drive that Lynch released 10 clues to help in deciphering the plot. It’s in my opinion that these 10 clues are largely useless. Some may provide a little guidance but Lynch notoriously doesn’t explain his work and the clues he provides only serve as a false pretence in which to view the film. He toys with our perceptions and preconceived ideas of how a film should be constructed. I’ve viewed the film many times and the clues predominantly lead to a dead end. This is a film that demands numerous viewings and yet can still come out different each time. That is the sheer genius and craftsmanship that has went into it. There’s a lot about the film that simply isn’t explained; narrative arcs and characters appear and then disappear. This could have been intentional or it could have been the result of the material being planned for a long running TV show where they would’ve been explored in more detail. Either way, it works and adds to the hallucinatory vibe that courses throughout. It could be argued that the film is just a series of scenes loosely tied together and it’s up to the viewer to interpret for themselves. Like Lost Highway, what the individual viewer brings to the experience is what they will walk away with. If you invest the time and respect to Lynch’s vision, you will be richly rewarded.

It operates on many levels and the lines between fantasy and reality are constantly blurred. Some claim it to be a parallel universe, or repurposed elements to a person’s failed past but the strongest interpretation is that it’s predominantly a disconcerting dream state involving displacement and transference and where the reality and the fantasy intertwine.

The significance of the The Cowboy and his cryptic messages, the importance of the blue key and the blue box, the uneasy encounter with the man behind Winkies and the moment at Club Silencio where we are reminded that what we see isn’t necessarily always real. All of these tie-in with the symbolic importance of dream imagery.

It can also be viewed as a cynical and scathing indictment of Hollywood culture – which could be a direct reference to the problems that Lynch has faced with studios in the past or even the issue that he faced in trying to promote this particular film as a TV show. At one point in the film, studio bigwigs try to influence a director’s decision on whom he casts in his film. This was purportedly what Lynch faced by casting unknowns Watts and Harring in the lead roles here and one of the reasons that ABC rejected it (apparently they were too old). They couldn’t have been more wrong, though, as Watts delivers masterful work. There are at least three different interpretations to her character and she nails every one of them. She showcases her extensive range which, considering the narrative of the film, ironically made her a Hollywood star overnight.

Form over structure and the combination of sight and sound has always been a major attribute to Lynch’s work and in Mulholland Drive, they are integral to the overall composition. Regular Lynch composer Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting score compliments the uneasy mood and atmosphere created by Peter Deming’s foreboding cinematography, lending the film a truly sinister and ethereal feel.

The biggest achievement though, is how much Lynch manages to respect his audience’s intelligence without compromising or diluting the overall concept. This is a visual jigsaw and putting it together is a very challenging endeavour. Many, if not all, viewers will find pieces that just don’t to fit. That aside, this is still an intoxicating mystery and even when it’s seemingly inexplicable it’s still gripping and hugely involving. Those who like their narrative spelled out for them needn’t bother but those that enjoy a challenge will be enthused throughout this fascinating piece of work.

We’ve all had those dreams where people, places and events are twisted and distorted and that’s exactly what Lynch captures. There is a running, logical narrative that courses underneath it but it’s very much delivered in dream logic. Any coherent interpretation lies within the importance of it’s symbolism.

When you consider Lynch’s filmography over the years, this feels like the film that he has been building towards. All of his usual themes are on display; the psychological duality in an individual and the juxtaposition of innocence and corruption, beauty and depravity, shattered dreams and living nightmares. Put simply, it’s an abstract masterpiece.

Mark Walker

Trivia: For what it’s worth, here are David Lynch’s 10 Clues to Unlocking The Mystery:

* Pay particular attention in the beginning of the film: at least two clues are revealed before the credits.
* Notice appearances of the red lampshade.

* Can you hear the title of the film that Adam Kesher is auditioning actresses for? Is it mentioned again?
* An accident is a terrible event… notice the location of the accident.

* Who gives a key, and why?
* Notice the robe, the ashtray, the coffee cup.
* What is felt, realized and gathered at the club Silencio?
* Did talent alone help Camilla?
* Notice the occurrences surrounding the man behind Winkies.
* Where is Aunt Ruth?

36 Responses to “Mulholland Drive”

  1. lewispackwood Says:

    Reblogged this on 101 Films You Should Have Seen and commented:
    A great review of 101 Films favourite, Mulholland Drive.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Still my favourite film of all time …

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice review Mark. This is definitely Lynch’s most perfect and hypnotic film, although I’ve always wondered how different Mulholland Drive would have been if it had remained a TV series.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I reckon it would have been very different, Charles. I suspect the identity or events surrounding Rita would probably have been the driving narrative much like ‘who killed Laura Palmer’ was for Twin Peaks. But it does look like several supporting characters from the film would’ve be fleshed out a lot more. It’s interesting but I’m kinda glad that Lynch was refused as the film itself is just sublime.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great work as always Mark! I am wondering if I should give this another shot sometime – I wasn’t overly taken with it the first time. Who knows?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers Zoë. To be honest, I don’t think anyone understood Mulholland Drive on the first viewing. It’s a film that demands several visits. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve seen it and I still don’t proclaim to understand it all. I think that’s the beauty and the art in the film, though. It’s always worth going back to see what else you can tease from it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Fantastic post! Loving all the Lynch posts here lately. MD is my second favorite movie of all time, absolute masterpiece

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I need to give this a rewatch at some point. I’ve only seen it once. It seemed so pointlessly cryptic I disliked it and never felt the need to go back. I know, I know – you’ve got to see this at least half a dozen times before it makes any damn sense. That’s a problem. Some movies that twist my brain leave me ready to return to them and figure out what I missed. This one doesn’t do it for me. Maybe I’ll change my mind about it next time. If there’s a next time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Understandable, Dell. I can’t recommend further viewings enough, though. It definitely needs to be picked at. There’s so much to work through. I know of a few people that gave up but I really do think this is an absolute masterpiece from Lynch. There’s even some things that still baffle me but when it Lynch that baffles me, I feel privileged.


  7. I can’t believe that this film has eluded me. Comprehensive review there Mark, sounds like it really twists and turns between reality and fantasy.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Five Fucking Stars! I’m completely in agreement. All this Lynch is making me want to revisit a few of his films and check out the couple I’ve never seen. I’d like to watch it again with the clues at hand.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Naomi Watts is just incredible in this film…………One of the greatest acting performances of all time! It is incredible that she has not been given enough credit for this! A wonderful piece of work!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry for such a late reply, my friend. I took a break from blogging.

      Can’t agree with you more on Watts, though. She was outstanding in Mulholland Dr. One of the best female performances I’ve seen from any film.


  10. […] you feel like slowly drowning in the swamp… It’s kind of ”Donnie Darko” goes on ”Mulholland Drive” in ”The Twilight Zone” atmosphere. My full review […]


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